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Sean emerged from the hospital room looking dejected.
“Is he still the same?” Leela aksed cautiously.
It had been the worst week of her life. Tim had had a heart attack. They’d managed to get his heart going again, but he’d been unconscious in the hospital ever since. She and her friends had come in every day. The other day she’d found a grey hair.
Sean sighed and ran a hand through his reddish hair. “He’s awake.” He said.
Leela and Teresa jumped up from their chairs. Teresa’s cup of coffee fell to the floor.
“Thank God!” Leela sighed in relief.
“Oh God, not the big but!” Teresa cried.
“He’s awake, but there’s something odd about him. He can’t seem to see me or hear me.”
“What do you mean?” Leela said as she grabbed Sean by the shirt.
“I don’t know what it means!” he said.
Leela found Tim’s doctor.
“It’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” the elderly doctor said. “Whatever it was that happened shocked him enough to kill him. Incidentally, what did happen to him?”
Leela told the same lie she had when Tim had been admitted. “I…broke up with him.” She said shamefully.
“That’s a terrible thing to do, it is!” an ugly doctor said from down the hall.
“I see.” The doctor said. “Well, he’s recovered, but he’s still suffering. Right now he’s trapped in some kind of meditative state. He can see and hear everything that happens around him, but he’s completely out of contact with the outside world. He might as well be a working body without a soul.”
“How long is this going to last?” Teresa aksed.
“That depends on him. You should all keep talking to him; try to encourage him that coming back is a good idea. Point out everything good that happens in life so that he’ll want to join in. Other than that all he’ll need is an IV to keep up his nutrition.”
“Thank you,” Leela said.
They all spoke to Tim one at a time. When it came time for Leela to go in, she couldn’t. She stood in front of the door, watching. Her entire body was frozen, and her heart was filled with fear. Why couldn’t she move? What was holding her back? Not even her friends could get her to go into Tim’s room. After fifteen minutes they gave up.
Sean and Teresa left the hospital, but Leela still had one more stop to make. She went up three floors to the psychiatric ward where she found Bolt in his own room watching Hypersled Racing on the TV. The beam from the Beholder had completely wiped out his memory. Leela decided that it was for the best. She wouldn’t want him to remember all the things that happened, and perhaps this would help him become a good person. She was surprised to find that she didn’t hate him after everything he’d done. The last time she’d been here, she thought she’d go ballistic and kill him. But now she just felt defeated, like she didn’t have the energy to hate anymore.
She went inside his room.
“Hi,” Bolt said brightly. “Are you one of my friends, too?”
Leela found herself choking up. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re friends.”
“The others have seen me already. What’s your name?”
“I like that name.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
“Can I aks you something, Leela?”
“Teresa was in here earlier, and she told me something about my past I was wondering about.”
Leela was shocked. They had all agreed not to tell him about the evil he’d done! What had Teresa told him?
“She told me I’m gay.”
Leela almost laughed.
“No, Bolt, you’re not gay. Teresa was just fooling around with you. She likes to do that.”
“Oh, okay. That makes me feel a lot better.”
Bolt didn’t look like he meant it. Leela stood up.
“Well, take care of yourself, Bolt.” She said. “I hope things work out for you.”
With her last farewell to her former boss, Leela left the room.
Leela was called to Brunswick’s office on Wednesday. In spite of everything that had happened, he was still their principal. They hadn’t spoken at all since the incident at the Central Bureaucracy, and they were all just fine with that. That’s why Leela was extremely anxious when she opened Brunswick’s door.
“Sit down, Leela,” Brunswick said with a smile.
Brunswick’s smile didn’t fade. “Very well. How have you been?”
“You know damn well how I’ve been. We’ve all been going through hell because of what you and your sick family did.”
Leela’s hostility seemed to have no effect on Brunswick. “I see you got rid of your elbow talons.” He commented.
Leela rubbed her right elbow tenderly. With a nail clipper and a file she’d trimmed down the talons until nothing remained but scars. Over the past week she’d felt bumps developing in the same places. She knew that she’d be trimming those things for the rest of her life. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother her. After everything else, this felt like nothing; just another morning chore.
“Look,” Brunswick said, suddenly frank. “I’m sure you and I both know why you’re here.”
“Maybe, but just in case, why don’t you tell me?”
Brunswick couldn’t help but smile again. “I wanted to make sure that everything that happened last week will remain a secret.”
“I’m surprised actually.” Leela said. “A man as smart as you ought to know that after a week of silence my friends and I weren’t going to turn you in.”
“True, but my main question is why?”
It had taken Leela a bit of time to deduce it, but she had finally figured out why Tim had been so secure when he’d said he was going to kill Skinner. He did know the consequences. He’d made a tape recording of their conversation earlier; he had evidence that could put the Lazarus family away forever. But now they were safe. Leela and her friends couldn’t turn their enemies in without revealing that Tim had killed Skinner, and Brunswick and Ivan couldn’t arrest them without having them hand the tape over to the authorities.
“I’m impressed, Leela,” Brunswick said after she’d told him all this. “You really are very intelligent indeed. But hadn’t you considered what I’d told you earlier? I control the police. That’s how I got my dear old brother out of jail.”
“If that’s the case, why haven’t you had us arrested already?”
Brunswick was silent.
“So,” Leela said with a smile, “there are places that even you can’t control. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Brunswick glared. “I believe that will be all, Leela.”
Leela smiled. “I’m glad we had this little chat,” she said. “We can both ensure the other’s safety.”
Leela was almost out the door when she turned around and aksed: “How’s Bolt doing?”
For some reason Brunswick looked extremely troubled by this question. “He’s fine,” he said. “But I doubt he’ll work for us again.”
“Well, it’s good to know that at least one good thing came of all this.”
Leela left with a genuine smile on her face.
One of the things Leela disliked the most about April was the rain. Rainy weather always made her feel sleepy. Now, with April starting off, the skies were already clouded up, with thunder threatening to dump rain on Maddick’s at any minute. Most of the time it did.
The afternoon of the fourth was a dreary one. The rain was coming down thick and heavy. Leela was sitting at her desk, trapped somewhere between falling asleep and doing her math homework. The only light in the room was the grayish cloudy sunlight pouring through the window, blurred by the rippling shadows of rain against glass.
There was a knock at the door.
Leela was startled enough to wake up slightly and say: “Come in.”
Sean came in through the door wearing a raincoat and a smile that was somewhat forced.
“Hi, Leela.” He said.
“Hi, Sean,” Leela replied as she turned her chair to face him. “What’s up?”
Sean noticed that Leela was alone. “Where’s Teresa?”
“At the Keg,” Leela said. “But something tells me that’s not why you came here.”
Sean stood erect and sighed. “You know, Leela, it’s been quite a few days since Tim woke up.”
There was a small silence. Leela didn’t know what to say.
“And I really think you ought to at least see him.” Sean finished.
Leela tensed up. Just the thought of going made her feel upset and nervous.
Sean could tell how she was feeling. “Why don’t you want to see him, Leela? I mean, he’s your boyfriend and all, and I really think seeing you would help him.”
Leela looked away. “Do we have to talk about this now?” she aksed.
“You’ll have to talk about it eventually.”
Leela didn’t want to let words like that affect her. Not when they were exactly what she needed to hear. She stood up and looked out the grey window.
“Look, Sean, I don’t know what you want me to say. I just…”
Sean took a deep breath. He didn’t want to make Leela feel bad, but he knew he had to talk to her, and he knew she had to talk to someone.
“Leela, I don’t blame you for feeling bad about this,” he started. “But maybe if you at least told me why you don’t want to see Tim—“
“It’s not that I don’t want to see him, Sean.” Leela snapped. “I just…can’t.”
Sean stepped closer to Leela. “Why?” he aksed slowly.
Leela thought back to the Central Bureaucracy. The events played out in her mind like a horror movie. She had watched Tim as he killed Skinner.
“I don’t know if I can bear it.” Leela said. “He’s a murderer, Sean. He killed a man! How can I possibly face him after what he’s done? He’s not the boy I’ve been dating anymore. He’s something completely different, now. I don’t know if I can…”
Sean stared at Leela. She had a tear in her eye. She looked so scared and lonely. It was like she’d been completely abandoned, like she had been when she was a baby. Sean wanted so badly to put a hand on her shoulder, or hug her, or do something to make her feel better. But he couldn’t. It pained Sean to admit it, but he knew that no matter how badly he wanted to be more than a friend to Leela, he had no choice but to let things be the way they were. That didn’t mean he couldn’t help, though. He smiled.
“You know, Leela,” he said. “People are more than what they do. I mean, sure, Tim killed Skinner, but that doesn’t make him a bad person. I’ve known him for a long time, and his character is not the character of a murderer.”
“Then how is it that he committed murder?”
Sean couldn’t respond.
“Sean, there’s a whole side of Tim that’s completely different from what you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“I first saw it on X-mas eve. When he was trying to kill Santa, he had this look on his face. It was like…some kind of hungry animal! He was enjoying getting his revenge. And then, when he thought I had cheated on him, it was the same thing. He completely changed, and he said the most horrible things to me!”
“He looked like that when he beat up Ivan, too.” Sean said.
“There’s something about Tim I don’t think I can handle, Sean.” Leela turned and looked out the window again. “It’s like he’s a completely different person, now.”
Sean understood her. By committing one final evil act, and choosing to do evil over good, Tim had completely changed Leela’s image of him. Instead of the boyfriend she’d had, he was now the vengeful spirit he’s kept hidden.
“I’m sorry you have to be the first to hear this, Sean,” Leela said with a slight whimper in her voice. “But even if I was willing to forgive Tim for everything else, I can’t let this go. I can’t be with him anymore.”
Sean didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how to feel. What Leela had just told him was shocking, to say the least. It meant a lot of things for someone in his position.
Leela quickly apologized for putting all her feelings on him. After reassuring her it was no problem, Sean bade her goodbye.
As she watched him leave, Leela thought: When did he get taller?
The Keg was crowded, as it usually was, but more so than usual now that everyone wanted to escape the rain outside. Most of the people were sitting at tables or lounging on couches, poring over textbooks and scraps of paper, desperately trying to get their next homework assignment finished. A couple of people were playing pool over to the side.
The bar was filled, and the bartender, who filled in for Sean every other night, was frantically trying to fill orders. Sean shook his head with a small laugh. Somehow his bartending skills were unmatched. He spotted Teresa sitting in a barstool sipping a drink and strode across the room.
“Hey, Teresa,” Sean said.
“Hi, Sean,” Teresa replied. “What’s up?”
“I need your help.” Sean was making a great effort to keep the desperation out of his voice. He was feeling so conflicted he knew he had to get his feelings out.
“If it’s homework you can forget it,” Teresa said bluntly. “It’s time you started doing that stuff on your own.”
“No, not this time,” Sean said. “My problem is much more important than schoolwork.”
“Don’t let a teacher hear you say that. But please, do tell.”
Sean looked around at the other patrons in the Keg. He couldn’t spill everything to Teresa here. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into the back room.
“I am not making out with you!” Teresa said.
“No, it’s nothing like that!” Sean said hastily. “I just needed to tell you this alone.”
Teresa rolled her eyes. “This oughta be good.”
Sean took a deep breath. “Leela just told me that it’s over between her and Tim.”
Teresa’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious? I thought everything would be okay!”
“If you’re talking about their fight over the tunnels, I think that’s ancient history for them. Leela said it was because Tim…”
Sean went on to describe how Leela had told him how afraid she was of Tim’s darker side, and how she had lost sight of her old boyfriend.
“My God!” Teresa said. “That’s awful.”
“She won’t go to see him in the hospital.”
“I can’t believe it’s actually come to this. But why is that a problem for you?”
Sean took yet another deep breath. He could feel his heart pounding. “I…like Leela. And, now…with what she’s told me…”
Teresa looked livid. “Listen to me, Sean. I don’t know what possessed you to think you can just pick Leela up on the rebound, but don’t think for one split second that I will help you do it!”
Sean was completely taken aback by Teresa’s outburst. He’d never seen her get so passionate about anything before. Ever.
“Leela isn’t just something you can pull back and forth between people. She doesn’t exist to be someone’s girlfriend!”
“Teresa,” Sean said, “I don’t want to do anything wrong.”
Teresa pointed a finger between Sean’s eyes. “Don’t give me that! Why else would you be talking to me?”
“I know that it would be terrible of me to do it. I’d be mistreating both Leela and Tim. But…” Sean looked downcast. “Even if it’s wrong, I can’t stop myself from wanting it. I like her.”
Teresa’s gaze softened, as did her temper. She lowered her hand and sighed, looking defeated.
“Look, Sean. I really don’t know what to say. I can’t blame you for liking Leela. She is a great person, after all. I suppose, in a way, I can understand what you’re going through. But don’t do anything you’ll regret. It’s like what you told Tim. ‘Make sure you can live with the consequences.’”
Sean looked surprised.
“He told me what you guys talked about.” Teresa added with a smile.
For a moment Sean thought Teresa was telling him to go ahead with it. He had to aks himself: Was he really willing to betray his best friend to pursue his girlfriend? When put that way he realized just how horrible he was.
With a heavy sigh, Sean forced a smile.
The door slid open to Tim’s hospital room. The boy in the bed continued staring blankly ahead as the machine next to his bed beeped in unison with his heartbeat. His mind was far too preoccupied to make his body move. But he could see who was there. The sight made him happy.
Tim’s visitor pulled the chair over from by the window and sat beside the bed. She rested her chin in her palms and gazed at him.
“You know, Tim,” she said, “a lot has changed since we got out of there. You know…that place?”
The machine beeped faster. Tim’s visitor didn’t know if this was good or bad. Not that it mattered.
“Things are hard for us at school,” she continued. “If we didn’t have each other we probably would have lost it. Sean’s been really great, though.”
The machine skipped a beep.
Just then a nurse came in. Her wide fake-looking smile annoyed both Tim and his visitor.
“Sorry, miss,” the nurse said in a sweet voice, “but visiting hours are over for now. You can come back tomorrow.”
“That’s okay,” the visitor said. “We both got plenty out of our conversation.”
“It’s good to know he has such a caring girlfriend.”
“I feel exactly the same way.”
The nurse didn’t notice Tim’s eyes follow his visitor all the way to the door as he watched her malicious smile fade into a scowl.
Sean walked out of the Keg and through the concrete courtyard in a rush. It had been a long shift at the bar, and he’d liked it that way. He wanted to delay what he knew he had to do for as long as possible. The ground was wet from the rain, which had ended mere minutes ago.
I have to do it, Sean thought as he hurried towards the dorms. Even if she says no, I have to get it out there.
“I can’t hold back any more.” He said aloud.
“Hold what back?”
Sean spun around. It was Leela. His knees weakened and his palms began to sweat. He could barely breathe.
“Oh. L-Leela, hi.” Sean stammered. “I was just looking for you.”
“Yeah. I’ve actually been looking for you, too.” Leela replied nervously.
Sean took a huge breath of the evening air. He had to say it.
“There’s something I needed to say.”
“I was just thinking—“
“Will you go out with me?” They said in unison.
There was a moment of silence between them. They stared at each other trying to understand what had just transpired between them.
“Really?” Sean aksed.
“Um, yeah, I guess.” Leela said nervously.
Sean scratched the back of his head. He had no idea what to say.
“What about Tim, though?”
“I told you that I can’t be with him anymore.” Leela replied. “What about you? He’s your best friend, right?”
“I just needed to get it off my chest. I wanted to aks you out, even if you said no. It was just one of those things that troubles you so much you can’t think straight, you know?”
Leela smiled affectionately. She liked how Sean was being honest about how he felt. Even Tim hadn’t been this open with her.
“Well, okay then. Let’s go out.”
Sean smiled back at her. “Great.”
There was yet another moment of silence between them. The both of them were completely tongue-tied.
“Well, see you later.” Leela said with a small wave.
“Yeah,” Sean waved back. He watched her walk away, his heart jumping.
“See you later.”
Teresa jumped as Leela burst through the door. The newspaper she’d been reading fell to the floor. Teresa didn’t really notice, because apparently neither had Leela. She was leaning against the wall and gazing off into space. It was one of those silly puppy love looks.
“In a good mood, are we?” Teresa aksed. Her curiosity was as fake as a celebrity’s face. In truth she knew exactly why Leela was so happy. It had only been a few hours ago that Sean had told her he was going to aks Leela out.
“Sean aksed me out!” Leela practically squealed.
“I know!” Leela sat down at her desk, barely able to contain her excitement. “I was actually going to aks him out, too, and we did it at the same time!”
“Wait. You were going to aks him out?”
“Oh yeah. I forgot to tell you. I’ve kind of decided that…it’s over between me and Tim.”
“I know that, but…you aksed Sean out?” Teresa picked up her newspaper and sat down at her own desk and crossed her legs as she turned the chair to face her friend. “It’s one thing to break up with Tim, but to switch right over to Sean? Don’t you think it’s wrong to make him catch you on the rebound?”
Leela shrugged. “He aksed me out, too, so he’s obviously okay with it.”
Teresa sighed and leaned forward. “It’s not about that, Leela,” she said impatiently. “If you guys want to go out, that’s fine, but what about Tim?”
Leela couldn’t respond. She knew just how badly she was treating him by doing this, but she couldn’t help herself.
“He’ll find out eventually.” Leela said slowly.
Teresa contained her emotions well. Leela’s behavior had not improved since her trip to the Central Bureaucracy. Instead of being impulsive, she was insensitive. She had to change the subject, though, or she might have burst.
“So why’d you decide to aks him out?” She aksed with a forced smile.
Leela sighed and stared off into space again. “Oh, I don’t really know. I guess it just fits. I mean, he seems like a slacker and everything, but I can tell that deep down he’s a really sensitive and thoughtful guy. Every time I think about him I feel dizzy and I get butterflies and everything. And—“
“Okay,” Teresa interrupted. “I think I get the picture.”
She wasn’t acting this way this morning, she thought. What made her change her mind?
Teresa returned to her newspaper. She tried to submerge herself in the story about how Mom’s Friendly Robots was continuing the mining project on Vergon 6, but failed miserably. Leela’s sudden change in behavior was driving her mad. She looked up at Leela, who was lying on her back on the top bunk humming some love song to herself. It was so fluffy it made her gag. Leela never would have acted like this with Tim. Something was different about this so-called relationship.
She grudgingly returned to her newspaper.
Sean stood gloomily before the door of Tim’s room. The rain was falling again. Thunder rumbled outside, like a great boulder falling down a mountainside. With a swipe of Tim’s ID card, he entered the lonely room. He pocketed the card and looked around. It was dark and empty inside. The gloom of the weather filled each corner with a sad kind of longing for life. Any time he’d seen Tim in here, everything had been so much more cheerful. Now everything in the room looked and felt as if its owner had died. Sean wouldn’t have been surprised. He might as well have killed Tim after what he’d done.
He felt like scum. He had really done it. He had aksed Leela out, his best friend’s girlfriend, while he was recovering in the hospital. It was a new low, especially since there were plenty of other things he had to be ashamed of. He hadn’t even been a good enough friend to tell Tim about those.
I really am a horrible person, Sean thought with a heavy sigh. I never deserved to have a friend like Tim.
He walked over to the desk and switched on the desk lamp. The soft yellow glow made him feel a little better.
At least there is a way to bring brightness to even the darkest of rooms, he thought poetically. He laughed as he thought this. It wasn’t often that his creative side came out; that usually happened while he was playing the saxophone.
Sean saw something on the desk that quashed his rebellious cheerful thought in an instant. Next to the lamp was a small felt box. He recognized it at once. It was the same box Tim had shown him in the Keg. It was the one he’d carried with him everywhere for almost a month, waiting for the perfect time to give it to Leela. Sean opened the box. Its contents brought his emotions flooding back. He fell to his knees crying.
“My God,” he whispered between sobs, “what have I done?”
Leela stood beside the security booth the next evening as she waited for Sean. The rain had mercifully ceased, giving the air a cool, damp smell that seemed to enrich everything it touched. Leela felt chilly in her jeans and hoodie sweatshirt. Sean had told her that she wouldn’t need to dress up for where they were going. Knowing him, he’d probably show up in a tux and say they were going to a fancy country club.
She couldn’t stop herself from feeling nervous. It had been a while since she’d been on a date. The whole thing with the tunnels had cut back on her social life. Now she was going out with Sean. She wanted to make a good impression, even though they’d been friends for months now. It was exciting to her how worked up she was about this. Her feelings for Sean seemed to have come out of nowhere, and she liked it. They were so new and so jubilant she didn’t want it to end.
“Well, don’t you look lovely?” Sean said.
Leela jumped. She hadn’t seen him coming. “Not half bad yourself,” she commented.
Sean looked really good in his khaki pants and striped cotton shirt. Now that she had a closer look, Leela could tell that he had gotten taller. He seemed to be carrying himself a bit differently, like he was suspended from a string in the top of his head. He looked a bit somber for some reason, but the expression was soon replaced with a smile.
“Well, let’s not stand around in the cold any longer than we have to,” Sean said with a smile. “Why don’t we get going?”
“Good idea.” Leela hooked an arm around his and let him lead the way.
Sean and Leela walked four blocks north and then headed east. They exchanged a few words, but for the most part they just walked in silence, enjoying each other’s company. There was, however, a bit of a heavy awkwardness between them. They both knew that they were thinking about Tim. It was hard for them to speak with Leela’s ex-boyfriend on their minds.
Sean turned to lead her down a dark alley.
“What’s up with this?” Leela aksed suspiciously.
“Don’t worry, Leela,” Sean said with a laugh. “I’m not gonna mug you. This is where the front door is.”
Leela allowed Sean to lead her on just a bit further. Sean knocked upon a narrow door in the dark brick wall on their left. A voice responded.
“What kinds of music are there in this world?” the voice aksed.
“Good music and bad music.” Sean said with confidence.
The door opened. A wild symphony of music leapt out of the room beyond. Sean took Leela by the hand and led her inside. The room was wide, with a low ceiling. Everything was some kind of earth tone: tan, beige and brown adorned every surface. The maroon walls were decorated with paintings of wavy scenery. Light fixtures hung over the heads of at least fifty people, the glass lampshades casting glittering flecks of light across the room.
A hostess led Sean and Leela over to a small oak table off to the right of the room, near a bar where two hot young bartenders were serving drinks. The squashy armchairs were upholstered in what felt like leather. Leela looked over at the far wall, where a band of three was playing jazz on a stage. A single spotlight highlighted the singer, who had a deep voice that rumbled and rolled between notes. The music was rhythmic and uplifting. It made Leela think of sunny days and laughter. It actually made her laugh a little.
“You like it here?” Sean aksed.
“This place is cool!” Leela exclaimed. “I didn’t even know it was here. Have you ever been here before?”
A waiter arrived at their table. “Hey, Sean. Will it be the usual, then?”
Sean smiled. “Hi, Jeff.” He said. “I’ll get a club soda.”
“I-I’ll have the same.” Leela could barely contain her amazement.
Jeff scribbled a note on his pad and started to leave, but Sean stopped him.
“So tell me,” Sean muttered mischievously, “how’d it go with Sam over there?” He pointed over to the bartender with the tightest shirt and the biggest chest.
Jeff smiled. “Next date’s tomorrow tonight.” He said gleefully.
Leela watched as Jeff delivered the order to the bar and then hurried off to another table. Then she turned back to Sean, who was patiently awaiting her response with a smirk on his face.
“I come here a few nights a week. Most avid music lovers have their own places to gather. This is one of the more sophisticated ones. They even allow underage drinking here.” He added in a low voice. “Most people don’t know about this place to begin with. The owners of this building actually renovated the back room. Everything here is their creation.”
Leela hung onto Sean’s every word. He explained it all with such an obvious understanding and love that he sounded as if he’d seen it all happen.
“Who’s the owner?” she aksed.
“Hell, I dunno.” Sean said bluntly. “We all think it’s the same guy who owns the hardware store next door.”
Leela laughed, and then remembered one of the more important details. “What’s this place called?”
Sean smiled. “The Hole In The Wall.”
Leela liked the name. Jeff soon arrived with their drinks. The two of them then spent the next hour talking about anything that came up. Their conversation was lively. Sometimes they just listened to the music. Leela had never really listened to jazz music before, but now that she had the chance, she enjoyed it immensely.
The band finished their song with a grand flourish. Everyone applauded. Jeff came by and dropped off Sean and Leela’s next set of drinks: virgin cocktails.
“Are you really okay with this?” Leela aksed as she sipped the drink. “These are our third drinks. I’m gonna end up costing you an arm and a leg!”
“Don’t worry,” Sean replied. “This place is pretty inexpensive. And it’s not like I’m not good for it. I’ll send the bill to my parents, and it’s nothing compared to what they’re used to.”
“What’s that mean?”
Sean looked uneasy. “They’re actually loaded.”
“Then why are you going to a piece-of-crap school like Maddick’s? You could be in a nice private school.”
Before Sean could answer, the lead singer spoke loudly into his microphone.
“Well now ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “We are very fortunate tonight, because we have here amongst us a very important man. He is a talented young man, has a passion for music, and is an amazing jazz noodle saxophonist. Please welcome to the stage, the son of the owner of this club, Mister SEAN MORDO!”
A spotlight opened up on Sean and Leela’s table. The entire room broke out into applause. Leela smiled at Sean in amazement and admiration. What she saw confused her. Sean was looking up at the stage, an expression of horror on his face. The announcement seemed to have terrified him for some reason, as if something had been said that he never wanted to hear.
Sean stood up grudgingly and walked up to the stage. He’d never looked more uncomfortable to Leela in his life. She couldn’t understand; he was very popular at school as the bartender, and he was practically a party animal whenever he hosted a campus event at the Keg. Why would he be reluctant to perform now?
Sean got up on stage and accepted the saxophonist’s instrument. He also aksed for a new mouthpiece to borrow. The music started up again and Sean joined right in, the music coming out flawlessly. He performed as he always had, except for the fact that the whole time, his eyebrows were furrowed in anger and frustration. People applauded as Sean hit a solo. Leela cheered.
The song soon ended on a high note. Sean handed the saxophone back. As he did so, he looked over at the rear corner of the club, near the right side of the bar. He was glaring hard. Leela turned around in time to see someone disappearing through a door, the light from inside casting a misshapen shadow across the floor. The door slammed shut.
Leela turned back and smiled as Sean took his seat again.
“That was amazing!” she said brightly. “Your playing is great. And why didn’t you tell me your parents owned this place?”
Sean looked down at his cocktail. He looked ashamed. “I didn’t know. In fact I’m almost absolutely certain that they didn’t own it until just recently.” Now he looked angry.
Leela didn’t know how to respond. “Is something the matter?” she aksed politely.
Sean sighed. “I’m sorry, Leela. I didn’t mean for things to turn out like this. I mentioned our plans last night, when my…parents…visited me.”
“They visited you last night?”
“They like keeping tabs on me. I’m afraid I let something slip.”
“But why is that bad?”
Sean quickly opened his mouth to respond. Leela thought he was going to raise his voice, but fortunately Jeff came by.
“Sean! Your parents are the ones that bought us out? Why didn’t you say so? Now Sam wants to get your number!”
Sean sighed. “You might have mentioned that you had been bought out earlier, Jeff.” He said annoyed.
Jeff looked confused. “What does that matter? I thought you’d know.”
Sean stood up to leave. Leela did the same. “You would have if you knew me.” Sean continued. “You can send the bill to my parents.”
“How do I find out where to send it?”
Sean glared at him. “Aks the owner.”
Taking Leela by the hand, Sean strode out the door. Outside, Leela stopped and turned Sean around to face her.
“Did you really have to do that, Sean?” she aksed. “Jeff is your friend.”
Sean looked at his shoes. “Sorry. It’s this whole thing…it…whenever my parents come around…”
Leela crossed her arms. “Sean, what problem could you possibly have with your parents?”
“My parents are…very rich, and very…ambitious. They’ve become very rich through many methods; some of them immoral by common standards.”
Leela’s mouth dropped open. “Sean, are you saying that your parents are criminals?!”
“No. They’re not criminals, at least not by the law’s standards. They do perfectly legal things to perfectly innocent people. Rob them of their money or property for completely legitimate reasons. They’re completely merciless when it comes to personal gain. They’ll do whatever it takes to make their fortune grow. And…they want me to join the family business.”
“I came to Maddick’s to escape them. I even fail at my grades for that same reason. No doubt you’ve seen me show signs of being quite intelligent at times, but I willfully choose to ignore those things so that I can stay away from my own family.”
Leela knew what he was saying was true. He was very smart indeed.
“I told you they like keeping tabs on me. When they found out about us coming here, they bought it.”
“To remind me that they’re watching.”
Leela shivered. She had no idea how bad Sean’s relationship with his parents was. Tim had mentioned his reluctance to discuss them, and now she knew why. All she’d ever wanted in her life was to have parents of her own, but after hearing this, she had to wonder: were her desires misplaced?
Leela took Sean’s hand in hers. “Don’t worry about it. If you don’t like your parents, and I can’t say I blame you, then I think it’s perfectly okay for you to defy them. In fact I think it’s admirable. I like you better as a good person. But you don’t have to get bad grades. That only hurts you.”
Sean squeezed her hand. “Thanks, Leela.”
Teresa opened the door of Tim’s hospital room. He was sleeping, according to the Decapodian doctor outside. She immediately saw that Tim’s eyes were wide open.
She sat down next to his bed. Tim continued to stare straight ahead. He looked more pallid than the bleak weather outside. The rain had started again. His hair had grown longer, there were whiskers all over his chin, and his entire body looked pale and gaunt. He looked like he was dying.
“Hi, Tim.” She said in the most cheerful voice she could fake. He was silent.
“You look great,” she added, trying not to grimace at his dreary appearance. He remained silent. It almost hurt for her to see her friend this way.
“Things have been going great at school. The rain hasn’t made things fun, though.”
Teresa found it hard to speak to him, knowing that his best friend had gone on a date with his girlfriend. The memory of Leela’s recount of the whole date the previous night haunted her to no end. Not only had Sean’s secrets about his parents been revealed, but Leela seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed herself. They’d been caught in the rain on their way back, and it had persisted ever since.
Teresa felt just like she had after Ivan had told her to tell Tim that Bolt had “hugged” Leela. She had bad news that Tim was entitled to; but was it a good idea to tell him, bad as things were already? No.
“You know, Tim…” Teresa said. “Leela’s having a really hard time right now.”
Tim’s face was as stony as before.
“After what happened, well, she’s had a hard time getting used to how everything’s changed. I know you probably want to see her, but…she just needs time to calm down.”
There was still no physical response from Tim.
“It may seem odd that I’m defending her for staying away, though knowing you you’d do the same. But, Leela’s been a really good friend to me. You know, I used to be a really timid girl. I couldn’t stand up for myself at all. Not even to my own parents, who have ruled every aspect of my life. And then, when Leela stood up to Skinner for me, I realized that I was lucky to have her. She means everything to me. I won’t let anything bad happen to her. Not anymore. So, you don’t have to worry about a thing.”
Teresa couldn’t stop herself from blushing. Tim’s hand moved, and she smiled.
Fifteen minutes of one-sided conversing later, Teresa left the hospital room in a good mood. She felt like she’d made a great breakthrough with Tim. He was that much closer to recovering completely. A nurse came up to her with a clipboard in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other. They were roses.
“Excuse me, miss, do you know the boy in that room?” she aksed.
“Yeah,” Teresa responded. “He’s my best friend’s…boyfriend.”
“Oh, you mean, you’re not his girlfriend?”
“No, of course not.”
“Oh, sorry. I just got a bit confused. I got a note with this bouquet saying that they were from the last person to visit him.”
“Well, then I couldn’t have sent them, since I’m here right now.”
“I know. Stupid me. It’s just one of those days.”
The nurse went inside to deliver the flowers, but Teresa was more interested in something else. Someone had been to visit Tim before? Had it been Sean or Leela? And why had the sender identified themselves as “the last person to visit him?”
She opened the door to the room.
“Did you happen to see who came to visit him?” she aksed.
“No,” the nurse said as she pushed her hair out of her face, “but my supervisor saw her. Sounded pretty weird, though. Said the girl had one eye.”
Teresa burst into the Keg, drawing a few stares from those closest to the door. She was soaked from head to toe in rainwater. It was coming down harder than ever now, and the sounds of thunder rattled the walls. She stormed over to the bar, where Sean and Leela were exchanging flirts over the counter. The instant she reached them she spun Leela around in her seat.
“Why didn’t you tell me you visited Tim?” she demanded harshly.
“You visited Tim?” Sean aksed. He was trying to sound interested, but Teresa could tell from the look on his face that he felt betrayed. Some boyfriend.
“No I didn’t.” Leela said. “I haven’t seen Tim since we had him admitted. I told you both I couldn’t face him.”
Teresa put her hands on her hips. “If that’s so, then why did the nurse say that the last person to visit Tim before me was a girl with one eye?!”
“One eye?” Sean and Leela said together.
“Well, it wasn’t me,” Leela said, a note of pleading in her voice. “I swear, I haven’t been to see him.”
“Turanga Leela, if you’re lying, I—“
“How could you think I’d lie?” Leela aksed. She sounded close to tears. “What would I have to gain from lying about that?”
“How about Sean?” Teresa said scathingly as she glared at him.
Sean put down the glass he was cleaning and glared right back. “Leela doesn’t need to lie to be close to me.” He said angrily. “You’ve seen for yourself that that’s true. If she wants to visit Tim I’m okay with it. She knows me well enough that I wouldn’t take it the wrong way.”
“Don’t come up out of nowhere and tell me that I’m twisted and deceptive,” Leela said. “That’s what Ivan is like.”
Teresa sighed and hung her head. “Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry. With everything as bad as it is, I guess I just lost my temper. I didn’t mean to yell at you guys. Are we okay?”
Sean and Leela looked at each other, then back at Teresa.
“Only if you pay for my drink,” Leela said with a smile.
“And leave a big tip,” Sean added.
Teresa laughed with them, and took a seat next to Leela. She let their conversation change topics, but in the back of her mind she was troubled, as she was sure the others were. She knew that even if Leela hadn’t seen Tim, something was up. How many people out there had one eye?
Leela was learning to ignore the rain. The storms were unpredictable in duration and force, but they occurred at least three times a day. The rest of the time it was just cloudy. All of these things would have dampened her mood as much as it did the campus, but with Sean around, they didn’t. It was like he was there for the sole purpose of making her feel better, which she had no problem with. She liked the effect he had on her. It was the same as when he entered the Keg to work as the bartender; everything seemed a bit brighter, everyone nearby a bit happier. He offered her a chance to look out on life and decide not to let it make her feel bad. Every time she held his hand, or raised her glass to him at the bar, or spent an hour alone with him in the boiler room, he smiled in a way that made everything bad in the world go away.
This was why she was extremely elated when Sean aksed her out again on one particularly rainy afternoon. She had been at her desk working endlessly on her homework. Her time spent with Sean had taken a toll on her free time, and she’d fallen way behind. Sometimes she’d caught herself staring off into space just thinking about him, so it was hard to concentrate. It had been a couple of days since their trip to the jazz club. The vibration of her wrist thingy had been a thankful liberation from her work, and now she was going to the Head Museum with Sean. She started rushing through her homework.
After classes had ended for the day, Leela met Sean outside the entrance to the school. They exchanged a quick and intimate hello, and set off for the Head Museum holding hands.
After climbing the mountain of stairs, Leela found herself in the high-ceilinged main hall of the museum. The shelves followed the curves of the walls, heads turning in their jars as they gazed about, looking at the patrons, talking to them, or talking to each other. There was a low buzz of hushed chatter. The high ceiling gave the room an ominous feeling that made Leela feel like she had to keep quiet; like the Central Bureaucracy.
The thought of the Bureaucracy automatically took all the cheer out of Leela. She hung her head.
“Something wrong, Leela?” Sean aksed politely.
“Oh, nothing,” Leela replied. “It’s just kinda cold in here.”
“Don’t worry. Once you start talking to some of the heads here you’ll forget all about it.”
Sean’s stomach rumbled. “Just like I’ll forget about my appetite.”
The two spread out and started chatting with the resident heads. Leela talked to several people she’d never heard of before. They told her a lot of cool things though, like how they could upgrade their jars to fly, or how they voted by thought transmission. One of the Presidents of the past made some joke about the new meaning of giving “head.” The whole way through, however, Leela could feel the same depression from her memories of the Central Bureaucracy. She couldn’t stop thinking about Tim and what had happened afterward.
Half an hour later Leela moved on to TV actors. There was a woman there called Katey Sagal, who Leela felt some kind of connection with. For some reason she found it easy to talk to her.
“What was your career like?” she aksed.
“Pretty cool, actually.” Katey responded. “You get to meet some pretty cool people. You get through the hassle of production with laughs, I find. Having a sense of humor gets you really far in the entertainment industry, especially in some of the TV shows I’ve done.”
“My friends and I get through tough times that way, too. Well, mostly.”
Either Leela’s upset expression had been incredibly obvious, or the connection she felt with Katey was mutual, because Katey aksed: “Is something bothering you?”
Leela nodded. “You see that guy over there?”
“You mean the one talking to Al Gore?”
“Yeah, him. His name’s Sean. The truth is, even though I’m here with him, my…boyfriend…is in the hospital.”
Katey raised an eyebrow, but showed no other sign of judgment.
“And, I know I shouldn’t be, but…he did something really…really bad. Not to me, but… I don’t know… I just couldn’t handle it. I mean, I don’t see it often, but…there’s a part of him that’s really dark and…I can’t be with him if there’s such a big dark part of him.”
Katey, instead of scolding Leela for stabbing Tim in the back, smiled. “You know, I’ve seen my fair share of bad days. Some were so bad they were absolutely unbearable. I once almost lost all faith in the world.”
Leela gazed at her intrigued. It was as if Katey knew exactly the words she needed to hear. “So what did you do?”
“Sometimes all it takes to make a bad thing good is to believe that it can be. You just have to give it a second chance. If a bad thing would happen to me, but I’d get through it, and I lived on. I realized that after everything was over, the only real bad thing was how miserable I was feeling.”
Leela was on the brink of tears. Everything she’d done suddenly shifted into a new perspective, shocking her with what she realized. She wasn’t in love with Sean, she was just distracting herself from how upset she was! Leela fell to her knees. Katey said something to her, but she barely heard. In her despair, she’d dug herself into a hole that was too deep for her to handle. She’d made herself think she loved Sean, and now he thought the same. She’d trashed his feelings and not even realized it. What was she going to do? What could she do? How could she possibly make up for all the things she’d done to ruin her friends’ lives? No wonder Teresa was so mad at her.
Sean ran over to Leela and pulled her to her feet. “Leela, are you okay?”
“Don’t worry.” Katey said. “We were having a little heart-to-heart, and I think she just got a little overemotional, if you know what I mean.”
Leela gave Katey a weak smile of thanks for coming to her defense. There was no need to spill everything to Sean all at once. She’d done enough to him; he didn’t need to hear about how she’d just had her second emotional upheaval in as many weeks.
Together they left the Head Museum, once again holding hands. Unlike earlier that day, Leela did not enjoy the experience. Instead of butterflies, she felt like she had a lead weight in her stomach. Her guilt couldn’t have been worse. Sean was being so good to her. He was giving her all the support she could aks for, and never aksed for anything in return. Except for going out, maybe, but that had been her idea, too. Sean probably felt the kind of unconditional love that she’d felt for…
“Why don’t we stop by a café somewhere?” Sean offered. “Maybe a drink will help you relax.”
Leela smiled, but inside she was torn to pieces with guilt. She didn’t know how she could stand to drink anything when her stomach was so screwed, but she still allowed herself to say: “Sure.”
The two of them stopped by the first café they found and ordered drinks. They sat at a small round table with tall chrome chairs. Their feet dangled below them as they set their drinks down on the table. In one corner a few college kids sat in armchairs around a small gas fireplace, and all around them young people sat at small booths drinking from steaming cups of coffee.
Leela chugged her coffee, its hot bitterness burning her tongue and biting at her taste buds. She set her mug down, her mouth tasting like iron, Sean gaping at her as he sipped his tea. She didn’t care. She needed it. She felt completely torn up and wanted to “drown her sorrows.” She was in a false relationship, and now she had to end it. There was no easy way to do it.
“You feeling okay, Leela?” Sean aksed. He felt stupid. Of course she wasn’t.
Leela heaved a sigh. “I dunno, Sean,” she replied. “Something’s bothering me, but I don’t think I can talk about it. It’s hard for me to even think about.”
“You can talk to me about anything,” Sean said, “but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
Leela couldn’t take it anymore. “Sean, I—“
A gust of wind blew Leela’s ponytail over her head. The door opened and a robot stepped in. People turned to stare. There were no laws being broken, but everyone knew that robots didn’t drink coffee. This robot was an oily color, with what appeared to be a scar on his face, and clamps on his arms.
The robot walked up to the cashier, who was also the owner. The African man closed the register and glared the robot in the eye. The patrons tried not to look too carefully at them.
“The Donbot says time’s up.” The robot said harshly. “Protection fee’s due.”
“You’re no protection.” The owner said in a strong accent. “You only make trouble and steal my profits.”
“Clamps don’t like being spoken to that way. And neither do his clamps.” The robot, Clamps, snapped his clamps before the man’s eyes. “Y’see, they get offended when someone tells them no. It’s not that hard for you to do, old man. We protect you, and you pay us. You don’t pay us, we don’t protect you…and bad things happen.”
At this point, everyone was deliberately looking away. Sean took his eyes off Clamps to motion to Leela for them to leave, but her seat was empty. He saw her approaching the counter, a stern look on her face. He hurried after her.
Leela stormed up to Clamps and turned him to face her.
“I’m not gonna let you intimidate people with threats of violence, Clamps.” Leela glared hard at the robot, who looked positively bored. “Get out of this place or your ass is history.” People were starting to stare.
Sean grabbed hold of Leela’s arm. “Leela,” he said fearfully, “I think it’s better to stay out of this.”
Leela wrenched her arm out of Sean’s grip.
Clamps laughed. “What the hell is this?!” he hollered. “A freak with one eye threatening to kick my ass? Ha! You couldn’t throw a punch far enough to hit me, sweetie!”
Leela’s temper flared. She advanced on the robot, ready to kick him into the next Armageddon, no matter how many customers were staring. “Why you son of a-“
Sean grabbed her shoulders and held her back.
“And you!” Clamps said pointing a clamp at him. “What the hell are you doing here with her? Does your mother know how you’re going around picking up one-eyed chicks off the street?”
Sean froze. He stared at Clamps with a fury so great he could barely recognize it. He let go of Leela and lunged at Clamps. Clamps hollered in pain as Sean drove punches against him. Sean was absolutely livid, and there was no stopping him.
Leela looked on in fear. Sean was fighting with ferocity and savagery. He looked like a wild animal. His every feature was contorted with hatred and pain, and he was lashing out against his opponent. He looked just like Tim had on X-mas. It was the same dark side she’d been so afraid of. Just when she’d thought herself through, she had come into even greater doubt than before. How could Sean do this? How could he have the same dark side?
The owner and a few customers pulled Sean away from Clamps.
Leela ran out the door, Sean chasing after her. He caught up to her down the street.
“Leela!” Sean called. “Wait up!”
Leela stopped, leaning against a lamp post and breathing heavily. Sean caught up to her and put a hand on her shoulder.
“What is it?”
Leela turned and looked at him. Sean felt his heart drop. Her eye was glistening with tears. Had he really scared her that bad?
“Leela,” he began shamefully, “I hope you don’t…that is, I wasn’t…”
He was interrupted by the ringing of Leela’s wrist thingy. The two of them didn’t take their eyes off each other. They were both backed up against a wall, and they had to bear their souls. Leela had to tell Sean the truth, and Sean had to explain himself. They were trapped, forced toward the other, afraid for what would happen, and Leela’s phone was going off. It couldn’t be ignored.
Leela answered. She listened for only a moment, and then gasped. She looked horrorstruck. She immediately hung up.
“Tim’s had a relapse!”
Leela stood with Teresa beside Tim’s hospital bed. Sean was on his way, trying to keep up with Leela, who had probably broken a few records to get there so quickly. Tim had been moved from his old room to the Intensive Care Unit. The entire ward was filled with patients who were severely injured or sick and required constant supervision. Everything smelled clean, and people in scrubs and lab coats walked to and fro. It was raining outside.
“We need to keep him on life support,” the doctor was explaining to them. He had short black hair and five-o-clock shadow. “One of the nurses said someone had come to visit him. A few minutes later, he had another heart attack. We could barely get him to recover long enough to get him down here. Another minute and he might have died.”
Leela shuddered so violently she had to hang on to Teresa for support. She was on the verge of tears. Teresa was conspicuously forcing herself to stay calm.
“Do you have any idea what might have caused this?” she aksed stiffly.
“My best guess is that something happened during his visit,” the doctor replied. “Maybe they said something or did something that upset him.”
“Who visited him?” Teresa demanded.
“I don’t know. You’d have to find the nurse who admitted—“
“There she is!” a woman called from behind.
Everyone turned and saw a girl in pink scrubs running towards them. She looked angry and fearful.
“That’s the one, Doctor!” the nurse said. “She’s the one who did this!”
She was pointing at Leela.
“What?!” Leela cried. “I didn’t do it! I haven’t been to see Tim even once!”
“Don’t give me that you freak, I saw you go into his room with both my eyes. You went in there and came right back out with a smile on your face!”
Leela leaned in and glared at the nurse hard. “I didn’t do it. I have never visited Tim.”
The nurse smiled and threw a stack of papers at Leela’s feet. “Then how do you explain this?” she aksed.
Leela knelt down and picked up the papers, keeping her eye fixed on the nurse. She looked at them. There were about fifty sheets, all disorganized and messy. The one on top was a birth certificate with the name Timothy Curtis Dawson in the middle. Leela gasped and Teresa leaned in. It was Skinner’s file!
“How could they have gotten this into Tim’s room?” Teresa whispered.
Leela thumbed through the stack in shock. “I don’t know,” she said.
“It had to have been Skinner, Ivan, or Brunswick,” Teresa went on.
“It was sitting on his bedside table,” the nurse said. “She brought it in.”
“Would you shut up already?!” Leela spat at her.
“Hey, don’t mess with the facts!” the nurse spat back. “You’ve been in to see him every other day. Almost every nurse and doctor here has seen you!”
Leela looked around nervously. As much as she hated to agree with the bitchy nurse, she could not deny that there was something strange about the shifty glances she was getting from all the personnel in the ICU.
Teresa stepped up. “Look, lady. I don’t know where your information comes from, and to be honest, I don’t care, either. But I can tell you without a doubt that Leela hasn’t seen Tim at all since we brought him here. I’ve only seen him once or twice!”
“Guys!” the doctor said loudly, “This is getting nowhere. We’re in a hospital for Christ’s sake! If you have to argue go outside!”
Everyone filed out the door to the hallway, with Leela following slowly, her eye stuck to the pages in her hands.
The hallway was wide, with pale linoleum floors and fluorescent lights. Someone was rolling toward them in a wheelchair next to a person who was dragging an IV stand beside them. The nurse and Teresa stood to the side to let the people by while they argued. The nurse was threatening to call the hospital security.
Leela leaned against the wall a few feet away, completely engrossed in the file. The documents and papers inside were enlightening, and at least half of them pertained to Tim. Not only was Tim’s birth certificate in there, but his medical and dental information, copies of insurance policies, and passport photos, too. There was a school photo that had been taken at the beginning of the year. How long had Skinner had this file? Had he been keeping tabs on Tim, the same way Sean’s parents did to him?
Leela’s thoughts were thrashing around, occupying her brain like an icy wind. Skinner had information about Tim that went back before they’d even met. What did Skinner have to do with Tim’s childhood?
Leela’s thoughts were briefly interrupted by the nurse suddenly exploding at Teresa. Apparently Teresa had said that she wasn’t a natural brunette. How their argument had gotten there was anyone’s guess. She turned back to the file.
The papers went back further, beyond Tim’s birth. His parents. They were in there, too. Leela found their photos. They looked good. They were only passport photos, but they still looked good. At least they’d smiled. Tim’s mother, Mara Smith Dawson, had a thin face with fair skin and auburn hair. Her eyes were deep blue, like Tim’s. His father, Benjamin Dawson, had broad shoulders, short blond hair and perfect teeth. He had the same nose as Tim.
Leela lowered the papers a bit and stared ahead. She felt strange looking at pictures of Tim’s parents. He was her ex-boyfriend, but she felt a kind of kinship with the people in these photos. They were only faces on paper now, but she felt as if she knew them, simply by knowing Tim.
She was about to continue searching, but she was stopped when a hand grabbed her arm. She glanced up and saw a security guard. It appeared that the nurse had followed through on her threat. Leela was immediately hoisted up to her feet, and she almost lost grip of the file.
“All right wierdie, I think you oughta come with me,” said the overweight man.
He started pulling Leela down the hall. She tried to wrestle her arm out of his grip, but no amount of struggling would work. This guy was good. Teresa followed.
“Hey, you! You can’t treat her like that! She hasn’t done anything!” Teresa shouted at him.
The guard looked annoyed. “Listen, kid. I don’t need to be bothered with this. I got a call saying that some freaky girl with one eye tried to hurt her ex-boyfriend, so I’m gonna kick her ass off the premises.”
“No you’re not!” someone shouted.
Everyone turned to see Sean standing in front of the guard, looking as livid as he had in the café. Leela went from defiant to fearful. Was he going to go all psycho again?
The guard let go of Leela, who was too scared to go anywhere, and pulled an expandable baton out of his belt. He was about to strike when the doctor burst out o the ICU and stepped between them.
“Enough of this!” he said harshly, glaring at the guard. “Put that thing away. We don’t need a fight in the middle of a hospital.”
The guard sheathed his weapon grudgingly. The doctor looked at each of them with a look of absolute disgust.
“I can’t believe you people. You should all know better than to lose it like this, and in a hospital of all places! Act your age for once!” He turned and looked at Leela, who he knew had taken no part in either quarrel. “Now what is going on here?”
The nurse answered. “I’ll tell you what’s going on. This girl tried to kill her ex-boyfriend.”
Leela turned on her. “I didn’t do a thing.” She refuted. “I haven’t been in to see him once.”
“You’ve come in here every other day. We have witnesses, and we can produce video footage!”
The doctor stepped between them. “Then why don’t we go to the security booth and look at the recordings and see if she really did come in?” he suggested.
No one had any objections. They all followed the guard to the booth.
“Now, this is the video taken a few hours ago, which caused the kid’s relapse.” The guard explained.
Leela, Teresa, Sean, the doctor, the nurse, and the guard were all crammed into a small closet-sized room on the second floor, holographic monitors displayed before them. They stood out brilliantly against the black walls, and the images were crystal clear. They were all staring at a large television in the corner that was hooked up to a DVD-player that played the recording.
“This camera was hidden behind one of those circular two-way mirrors in the corners of a hallway. You know, the domed ones that make you want to look at them?”
Everyone knew what he was talking about. The mirror tricked people into looking into the camera. The mental trick was old, but incredibly subtle and efficient.
The tape played. Everyone leaned in to get a close look. It was playing in fast-forward, and nurses and patients scurried around the corner like owls running from exterminators. As the tape neared the correct time, the guard slowed it to real-time. What everyone saw on the screen was shocking. A girl with purple hair and one eye walked around the corner, looked at the camera with a grin, and disappeared into the lower left corner of the screen, where the door to Tim’s room had been.
Everyone looked at Leela. The nurse smirked. Leela was trembling with fear. It was impossible. She hadn’t been there. She hadn’t! That wasn’t her!
“How…?” Leela blurted.
“Told you,” The nurse said triumphantly.
Leela’s mouth moved, but no words could come out. What was going on!
The guard rewound the tape. The Leela look-alike walked by again, looked at them, and disappeared. Leela knocked the guard’s hand out of the way and watched it over and over again.
Sean was as astounded as Leela. “This is impossible!” he exclaimed. “She hasn’t been here! How is she on the camera?!”
“It’s not her.” Teresa said.
“What do you mean?” the doctor aksed.
Teresa played the video in slow motion, and paused it when “Leela” looked at the camera. She pointed.
“Look.” She said. “Leela’s boobs aren’t this big.”
“What?” Leela cried. She leaned in and looked closely. “My boobs aren’t that small.” She complained. “I mean, the camera adds ten pounds, right?” She looked down at her chest. Her boobs were fine.
“Trust me, Leela,” Teresa said. “This girl’s boobs are bigger. Another thing is that she’s holding something in her hand. You have to look closely,” Teresa rewound the tape. “Because she’s walking to the left, and it’s in her right hand. But you can just barely see...” She hit pause. “There. In her right hand.”
Everyone looked. In “Leela’s” right hand was the file. The same file she carried with her now.
“But that’s impossible.” Leela protested. “I’ve never seen this file before. I mean, Skinner showed it to us at the—.” She cut herself off before she said Central Bureaucracy. “When we last saw him.” She corrected. “But that’s the only time. I swear!”
“Don’t worry, Leela,” Sean said. “Tim had his relapse about an hour ago.” He pointed to the time counter in the corner of the screen. “We were at the café when this happened.”
“Well at least you have an alibi,” the guard said.
The nurse hung her head in defeat. Teresa smiled. For the first time she was glad Sean and Leela were going out.
“There’s one more thing I’m interested in,” the doctor said, pointing at the screen. “Look at her face.”
Everyone looked at “Leela” once again. She was wearing a malicious grin, as though she knew they were watching.
In fact, Leela thought, she looks like Sean did in the diner; only happier.
She shuddered at the thought.
“Is she smiling at the mirror?” Sean suggested.
“No.” Leela said. “She’s looking at the camera. She knows she’s being recorded. She wants us to see her face. My face. She knew what was going to happen to Tim, and she knew what would happen to me afterwards!”
“Someone’s trying to frame you!” Teresa concluded.
“Who?” the doctor aksed.
No one could answer this. Sean, Teresa and Leela knew the Lazarus Clan would do anything to hurt them, even if it were just for fun. But this was something entirely different. That couldn’t have been anyone but Leela on the tape, and yet she had been on a date with Sean. How could she be in two places at once? Why? Or…had that girl on the screen been Leela at all?!
Leela’s insides were burning with fear. If she didn’t find out what was going on, she could get in enough trouble to be arrested. However, with everything that was happening, Leela was more afraid of actually learning the truth. After what she’d seen on the screen, jail time sounded like a cake walk. What was she dealing with?
The doctor called their attention again. “Well, in any case, I think we ought to be a lot more careful from now on.” He said authoritatively. “As strange as this all seems, I see no reason why any of you should be in trouble. I suggest you all go home and get some rest. We’ll keep your friend under tight surveillance and make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
“Thank you,” Teresa said gratefully.
Everyone sat in the back room of the Keg. They weren’t sure why. It just seemed like a good place to gather; better than one of their bedrooms, anyway. The light was on, but it didn’t make the room feel any brighter. All around them they could hear the continuous tumult of the storm outside. Their hair and clothes were sopping wet, because they hadn’t had umbrellas on the way back from the hospital.
They felt so few, with it being just the three of them: Sean, Teresa, and Leela. No Tim. It had always been the four of them together, and now without him, it felt as though a part of each of them was missing. Leela secretly would have liked to have Bolt among them, just to make the group feel complete again.
“Okay,” Sean said, breaking the awkward silence. “So what do we do?”
“What can we do?” Teresa corrected. “We have no idea what we’re facing, so we don’t know how to fight it. And even if we did, could we? We didn’t even win last time.”
Leela looked up from the file. “What do you mean?”
“We went to the Central Bureaucracy to stop the smugglers,” Teresa explained, “but all we managed to do was keep them away from us. We fought them to a stalemate.”
Leela nodded and thought back to the tape Tim had recorded at the Central Bureaucracy. It was the only piece of evidence keeping the Lazarus Clan from hurting them any further. She gripped it firmly in the pocket of her thin red jacket.
“Who was that?” Sean aksed.
“Who was who?”
“The girl on the tape. Who was she?”
No one could speak for a while.
Leela leaned forward in her seat. “It just doesn’t make sense,” she said thoughtfully. “How can a person look exactly like me? Why would they want to? And to what purpose?”
“Well, we know that she wants to hurt Tim,” Teresa said.
“And she impersonated you to frame you,” Sean added.
No one could produce an answer. With modern technology, there were plenty of conceivable ways to change one’s appearance. There were even technologies entirely separate from those sold on the commercial market; inventions and ideas flooding every crevice of imagination. A secret machine bought from some guy in a trench coat in a dark alley could have done it.
“I guess ‘how’ doesn’t really matter to us,” Sean said slowly. “At least not personally. How they did it is anyone’s guess, but what we’re going to do to find them is another question.”
“Wouldn’t knowing how they impersonated me lead us to that?” Leela aksed annoyed.
They heaved a collective sigh. They were back to square one with nothing to show for it. Sean leaned against the wall with his arms crossed, while Teresa began to pace, her shadow shifting across the wall panels.
Leela returned to the file. She had carefully gone through everything she had seen so far. It was unbelievable the things Skinner had collected on Tim. Every identifying document imaginable was in there. It was like she was backtracking Tim all the way through his life.
She stared at the pictures of Tim’s parents for a long time, just admiring them. They had done a great thing, bringing their son into the world. He had changed her life, and she owed it to them. It was their entire legacy, carried from one person to the next, making her happy.
She put the picture down and went further back. Next was a death certificate for each of them. The certificates were laminated. Apparently they were important to Skinner. It seemed typical for a man like Skinner.
Next was a photograph. Not a passport photo or a driver’s license, but a family photo, probably taken on a vacation or honeymoon. It depicted Tim’s parents standing together in front of a brick wall. They looked happy.
Leela was confused. How had Skinner gotten one of the Dawsons’ personal photographs?
She continued onward and gasped in fear. The document was unmistakable, the name at the top crystal clear. Still, she refused to believe it. Beneath one of the five stamps were the words Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium.
Leela set the paper down slowly, as though it were a bomb about to detonate. She felt numb all over. Tim had been at her orphanarium. He had been there! But why couldn’t she remember? Why hadn’t they met?
She stuffed the paper into her pocket and ran out the door. Sean and Teresa called after her, but she ignored them. She had to find out the truth for herself. That was the only way she was going to get to the bottom of this. There were too many loose ends to be ignored. Too many questions to go unanswered. She had to know.
With rain pouring down on her, Leela jumped into the tubes and was whisked away to her childhood home.
The orphanarium was as dreary as it had been in her childhood. Leela stood outside the front gate, rain pelting against her, feeling herself become more and more miserable with each passing second. This place had a way of doing that to her.
The last time she had been here was the last time her relationship with Tim had been ruined. Of course, right afterward it had been mended. Even in the midst of all her confusion, Leela couldn’t help but wonder if such a thing could happen again.
She pushed the intercom switch.
“Yes?” Mr. Vogel’s voice answered.
Leela almost turned around and left. “Hi, Mr. Vogel.” She said as brightly as she could. “It’s Leela. Can I come in, please?”
“Leela? Not the one-eyed freak show girl Leela?”
Leela groaned. “Yeah, that one.” She said.
“Of course! Come on in!”
The gates opened and Leela walked toward the front door.
Mr. Vogel’s office looked exactly the same as it had the last time she’d been there, right down to the number on his Bureaucrat badge. The sight of it held contempt with Leela now that she knew the horrible truth behind the Bureaucracy, or at least a part of it. She sat down in the chair across from the desk. There was a tight feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“So how can I help you, Leela?” Mr. Vogel aksed kindly. “It’s been quite a while since you’ve been here. You didn’t even come back for X-mas break.”
Leela fidgeted. She spent her summer and winter vacations at the orphanarium because she’d never been adopted and no foster home would take her. “There’s something I need to know, Mr. Vogel.”
“Oh. You want to see the note your parents left again?”
“No. Not this time. I want to know about Tim Dawson.”
“Tim Dawson?!” Mr. Vogel said shrilly.
Leela was taken aback. Why did Mr. Vogel look so frightened? He cleared his throat and looked relaxed again.
“Sorry, Leela, but I’ve never heard that name before.”
Leela glared at him. He was sweating. “You’re lying.” She said.
“No I’m not.”
“You are lying to me!” Leela shouted.
“You’re making a mista—“
Leela thrust the paper into his face. “You stamped and signed this form yourself, Mr. Vogel. You know damn well who I’m talking about. Tell me!”
“Why do you want to know?!”
“He’s my—!” Leela couldn’t finish. She’d almost said “boyfriend,” but she couldn’t. Not yet, anyway.
“You know him?” Mr. Vogel said bewildered. He looked amazed at what she’d told him.
“Yes. And so do you. You can’t deny it now.” Leela said triumphantly.
Mr. Vogel had pushed his chair back against the wall behind him, beads of sweat trailing down his forehead. His trembling hands were gripping the armrests so hard his knuckles turned white.
He sighed and moved forward.
“You’ve got me,” he said. He took a key out of his pocket and opened one of his desk drawers. After removing all it contents, he reached down and pulled out a wooden slab; a false bottom!
He retrieved from inside the drawer a small file. There were only a few pieces of paper inside, but Leela was absolutely positive that one of them was the original copy of the form she held in her hand. She was right. The form was in there, along with a picture of a little boy. He looked to be about five to seven years old, but it was hard to tell. He lay unconscious on a small bed, with a few cuts and bruises, and an enormous lump on his head. It was Tim.
“When was this taken?” Leela aksed.
“About ten years ago, though I can’t remember exactly when, a man came here with two boys. He was tall and blondish. One boy was Tim, whom he carried unconscious in his arms. The other boy was short and blonde. Looked like his son. I don’t really know. They wouldn’t even give me their names.”
Leela knew who they were: Skinner and Ivan. But how could they have been there?
“The man told me that Tim’s parents had been killed, and he’d just barely managed to save him. I congratulated him on his bravery, but he didn’t want to hear it. He simply insisted that I find him a set of foster parents as soon as possible. I made a few calls and had him sent off by the next day.”
Leela glanced up from her hands, which were clasped in her lap. “The next day?” she aksed bewildered. “How did you manage to do that? And how could I not have seen him?”
“The man was quite insistent for some reason or another,” Mr. Vogel said, stroking his chin. “I never really knew why. But you probably didn’t see him because he didn’t move at all. He was unconscious most of the night. He’d come down with a case of hypothermia, and we had to keep him in that special bed in the back closet. It had been snowing that night, you see. Turned into quite a blizzard.”
Leela could remember one night six years ago when it had snowed nonstop for hours. The wind had howled loudly through cracks in the walls, and she’d stayed up late doing homework. Could it have been that night? Had she been sitting at her desk eating cookies as Tim, her future boyfriend, had been carried inside?
Leela stood up. “Thanks, Mr. Vogel,” she said. “You’ve helped a lot. I’ll come again if I have any questions.”
“Anytime, Leela. Just don’t yell next time.”
Mr. Vogel waved as she walked wordlessly out the door.
Leela walked through the door of her room and collapsed onto her bed. Teresa poked her head out from the bottom bunk and looked at her curiously.
“What’s with you?” Teresa aksed.
“I’m just tired,” Leela moaned into her pillow.
“Well, you’d better wake up,” Teresa said, “because you’ve got a lot of explaining to do. Where did you go? You left me and Sean there without a clue as to where you were going. Then Sean took off, too. He said he had some shopping to do.”
Leela rolled over. She didn’t want to talk. She’d seen and heard too many confusing things to want to think anymore. The day was nearly over, the rain was still lashing against the windows, and she was completely exhausted.
“I went to the orphanarium.” Leela said.
“What? Why would you go there?”
“There was a form in the file,” Leela said as she took the paper out of her pocket and gave it to her friend. “Tim lived at the orphanarium for at least 24 hours while I was there, before he was given to some foster home.”
Leela continued with a description of her trip to Mr. Vogel’s office, giving every piece of information she could remember. By the time she was done, Teresa was sitting in her desk chair staring at the form, a faraway look in her eyes.
“This is unbelievable,” Teresa said. “How can all these things fit together? What does it all mean?”
She looked up at Leela, hoping to get an answer, but she was already snoring. With a sigh Teresa placed the form into the file on Leela’s desk. She then stood on her chair and looked at Leela for a moment. She was dealing with a lot, and Teresa couldn’t help but admire her.
“Sweet dreams,” she whispered.
The next day was a drowsy one. The dark clouds were reflected clearly in enormous puddles of rainwater on the ground. April was starting to take a toll on all the students at Maddick’s. People shuffled between classes, dragging their feet behind them as drizzle blew before their half-lidded eyes.
Leela, Sean and Teresa were worn out. They had been through a lot in just a few weeks. They wanted to be saved from their chaotic lifestyle and live normally. But now that they were, they couldn’t stop themselves from being bored. They couldn’t remember how it felt to be carefree high school students. At the beginning of the year, their biggest problem had been studying for a test at the end of the week. Now they were surrounded by fatal enemies, and one of their best friends was in the hospital. There was no going back from that. They felt as separate from the student body as they had when they’d returned from the Central Bureaucracy.
Still, they pressed themselves on. They trudged through their daily schedules, going from one class to the next, taking notes, writing down homework assignments, eating lunch in the noisy cafeteria, and at the end of the day, raising cans of Slurm to Tim’s health at the Keg.
By the time Leela had gotten back to her room at the end of the day she felt tired enough to let herself collapse onto the floor and fall asleep. She didn’t, though. She knew that it was the gloomy weather that was affecting her. The rain was starting up again, and she didn’t know how much more of it she could take.
She sat at her desk and opened up the file that Teresa had left there. She couldn’t believe how much trouble it had caused. This stack of papers had once sat in Skinner’s office at the Central Bureaucracy, and then been given to Tim by some girl who looked exactly like her. Now she had it.
She perused the papers for about an hour, looking at photos and learning things about Tim, like his Social Security Number. Soon she grew too tired to keep her eye open.
Leela dreamed of her childhood. It was not a pleasant experience. There were hundreds of vague images of people pointing and laughing. Wicked smiles grinned in her direction, sets of eyes leering. There was noise everywhere.
Then she was sitting at her desk. She was working on a few multiplication problems that were giving her a hard time. She was trying hard to ignore the cold drafts blowing in through the cracks in the walls. There was a heavy snowstorm outside, and she was starting to feel tired.
She heard the front door open downstairs, and Mr. Vogel greeted someone politely. She tried to ignore it. If someone had come in for an adoption interview, she knew that it wasn’t for her. She’d never had a single one. She turned back to her work.
About an hour later, after Mr. Vogel had bid his visitor goodbye, Leela found a smallish cookie tin on her desk. She looked around. There was no one around. The door to the bathroom hung open, but there was no one in there, either.
Leela shrugged off her confusion and ate one of the cookies. It tasted good. But then a few minutes later, she began to feel incredibly tired. She was falling asleep fast, and she couldn’t stop it. Her head hit the desk.
Leela woke up late on Saturday. She was slumped over her desk, her cheek stuck to the photos of Tim’s parents. She sat up, her back hurting from sleeping in such an awkward position. Grey light from the cloudy skies filtered in through the windows and fell across the sleeping form of Teresa on the bottom bunk. It was a little after noon.
Leela peeled the photo off her face and put it back into the file. She didn’t feel hungry, so she decided to go back to reading the file. Further back, behind the orphanarium form, was a collection of photos. They were all pictures of Tim’s mother. As Leela looked closer, she noticed an important detail: in none of the pictures was Mara Dawson looking at the camera. They’d all been taken from across a street or in a crowded room, and she was looking at something else. Had Skinner been spying on her?
The next thing she found was an ultrasound photo of Tim. Skinner had gotten just about everything he could on Tim. Leela turned the file over and closed it. As she did so, a piece of paper fell out of the back, from the bottom of the stack of papers. She picked it up off the floor. It was small, and looked brand new. It must have been added to the file very recently. The paper read: 4/12.
Teresa woke up behind her. Leela turned around and saw her get up and stretch. Teresa’s shirt stretched across her chest as she did so. Leela thought back to what Teresa had said when they’d watched the security video. Were her imposter’s boobs really bigger than hers?
“Morning,” Teresa said as she headed over to the bathroom yawning. “Sleep well?”
“Not really,” Leela said. “I had the strangest dream.”
“And what did your subconscious have to tell you?” Her roommate kidded from behind the door as she turned the shower on.
“Nothing, I guess.” Leela leaned against the closed door as she spoke. “I think it was one of my memories. Remember how I told you about that night I was doing homework, when Tim might have been brought in?”
“I dreamed about that. But it seemed so real. It was like I was reliving it. And for some reason at the end I ate some cookies and went unconscious.”
“Maybe they were poisoned?” Teresa kidded.
Leela didn’t laugh.
“You know, there’s a lot about this that doesn’t make sense to me,” Teresa said.
“Like what?” Leela aksed.
“For one thing, why was Mr. Vogel so afraid when you said Tim’s name? He didn’t seem to tell you anything scary after that.”
Leela stroked her chin thoughtfully.
“And then there’re the odd coincidences.”
“Tim shows up at your orphanarium for one night only, and then you, his future girlfriend, go unconscious. How is that normal?”
Leela couldn’t tell what to make of this. The two events couldn’t have been related, could they?
“And then there’s something else…” Teresa sounded apprehensive now. “At the Central Bureaucracy, Tim said they’d gone back in time. And now we know that Skinner brought Tim to the orphanarium when he was a kid.”
Leela gasped and opened the door. Teresa yelped and yanked the shower curtain all the way to the wall, blushing furiously.
“Skinner killed Tim’s parents!” Leela shouted.
Neither of them could speak. The shock of their revelation was too great. Skinner had killed Tim’s parents when they’d gone back in time, and then taken Tim’s younger self to the orphanarium. It was impossible to imagine such a thing had happened.
“I can’t believe it,” Teresa said from behind the curtain.
Leela sank to her knees. “Tim,” she whispered.
“So does that have something to do with you?” Teresa aksed.
Leela couldn’t believe how easily Teresa had snapped out of her shock. “What do you mean?” she aksed.
“Well, if all this happened to Tim, and then you fell unconscious…”
“I don’t see how that could be—?”
Leela stopped. She suddenly figured it out. Mr. Vogel had been frightened when she’d said Tim’s name, but then he told her a normal tale. Tim’s parents had been murdered, and then Skinner had taken him to the orphanarium where she’d lived, and then she’d been knocked unconscious. It was all connected somehow.
“I have to go.” Leela said urgently. She went back to their room and put her coat on, then grabbed the file.
Teresa emerged from the bathroom, a towel wrapped tightly around her. “Where are you going?” she aksed.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this right now!”
Leela stormed up to the front doors of the Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium in a rage. The tubes had been jammed, and she’d had to walk half the way to Conie Island, where the gates lay open. A red sun was on the horizon.
“What happened that night?!” Leela shouted at Mr. Vogel as she kicked his office door in.
“You said you wouldn’t yell next time you came here!” Mr. Vogel said. He cowered behind his desk.
“You lied to me!”
“No I didn’t!”
“Skinner brought Tim here, and then later I fell unconscious! What does it mean?!”
Mr. Vogel was shaking all over. Leela was close to a confession. She could smell it coming.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“The man who brought Tim here was the man who killed his parents! You know about that, and you also know that he did something to me! What did he do?!”
Leela leapt over the desk and pinned the old man to the wall, holding him by the collar of his shirt.
“WHAT DID HE DO, GODDAMNIT?!”
“Okay,” Mr. Vogel cried, “okay!”
Leela loosened her grip a little.
Mr. Vogel took a deep breath. “Skinner told me what he did, and who Tim was. He threatened to kill me and all the kids here if I didn’t cooperate. Then the kid Ivan said he needed you for something.”
Leela’s eye grew wide with fear.
“I volunteered to go get you, but he said no. He said he already had two of his agents working to get you ready. An hour later, after Tim was locked up in the medical closet, I went upstairs to get you. But when I got there, you were already gone. I found you in the closet.”
Leela suddenly remembered a few short minutes from that night, when she’d woken up inside a closet and spoken to a boy. Tim.
“I swear I don’t know what happened. I only know that they needed you for something.”
Leela dropped Mr. Vogel.
“Ivan came here a few weeks ago, and next thing I knew, that girl was jumping out at me with death threats, aksing where you were.”
Leela leaned against the desk. Her heart was racing faster than her mind, and she could barely see the fear and shame in Mr. Vogel’s eyes. There was only one possible conclusion.
“My God,” Leela said. “I have a clone.”
It made so much sense. Even if Vogel didn’t know, this girl obviously had an origin tied to the Lazarus Clan. Why wouldn’t they make a clone?
“She’s almost exactly like you, Leela,” Mr. Vogel said. “She’s a natural-born fighter. She can kick anyone’s ass, she’s smart and cunning, and she’s dangerous. But there’s one key difference between the two of you.”
Leela stared at him. “What?”
“Her boobs are bigger than yours.”
Leela kicked him in the chest. “You let two murderers destroy Tim’s and my lives, and all you can think about are boobs?!”
She picked him up and spun around, slamming him down on the desk. She stood on the chair, with one hand holding on to his tie.
Then one of the orphans came in. She looked about five. She looked at them, Mr. Vogel lying on the desk, his clothes a mess, and Leela hovering over him.
“Uh, Mr. Vogel…?” the girl said.
“Don’t worry, Jessi,” Mr. Vogel said nervously as Leela quickly let go. “We were just talking very loudly. And very violently. Go on and play in the courtyard.”
“But the other kids won’t stop throwing the dead owls from the traps at me.”
“I said go!”
The girl ran out.
Mr. Vogel turned to look at Leela, but she wasn’t looking at him, or at the closed door. She was looking at the desk where he’d once been. Leela leaned in closer. In the middle of the desk was the file she’d brought, which lay open to the section where there was the paper she’d found, which still clearly read 4/12. To the side was Mr. Vogel’s desk calendar. The small screen read 12 April. She gasped in realization. The writing on the paper was a date! Whoever had put it in was planning to do something that very day! Leela’s clone had looked maliciously at the camera during her last visit to Tim, and she had brought the file with her. Leela slowed down. Her clone hadn’t brought the file. She’d delivered it! She was sending Leela a message!
Leela grabbed the file and bolted out the door. She had to get to the hospital. Tim’s life was in danger!
Teresa and Sean followed Leela through the doors of the hospital, where she requested to see Tim. She then beckoned to them to follow her. As Leela turned to face them, Teresa got a good look at her profile. For some reason, her boobs didn’t look right. Either Leela was wearing a new kind of bra, she’d grown in the past few hours, or something else was wrong. Maybe it was just Teresa’s eyes fooling her. She hadn’t gotten much sleep, and had sat drowsily in her room until Leela had come back from the orphanarium, saying that she wanted to go see Tim. She had looked a bit over-enthusiastic at the time, especially after her brutal reluctance to see him at all the past two weeks, but Teresa didn’t complain. If the one-eyed girl in front of her was sincere, she was happy. She couldn’t say the same about Sean, who looked a bit nervous about the whole thing. Together they stepped into an elevator.
Leela jumped out of the tube drop-off station and started running the instant her feet hit the sidewalk. Clouds were gathering in the darkening sky, and a drop of water hit her in the eye as she wound her way around the corner towards the hospital. She clutched the file to her chest underneath her red coat.
“Only a few more blocks!” she panted.
The elevator doors opened with a chime as the small group reached Tim’s floor. Leela led the way out. Her friends walked on either side of her. She looked over at Sean. He was carrying a bag in one hand.
“What’s in the bag, Sean?” Leela aksed him.
Sean’s hand tightened on the handle. “Under the circumstances, Leela,” he said nervously, “I think it should wait.”
Sean took a deep breath. He was nervous as hell. He’d picked the wrong time to go shopping. The instant he’d gotten back, Leela had run up to him and aksed him to go see Tim with her. He couldn’t possibly have given it to her then. He would have looked like a complete idiot. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to put it in his room. For some reason Leela had been too insistent to wait. She’d practically dragged him out of the school. He hated himself for it, but he hoped that she wasn’t suddenly in love with Tim again.
The door to the ICU was coming up on the right.
Leela burst in through the doors and ran for the stairs. The girl at the counter called after her, but she couldn’t wait. Every second counted. She rounded off each flight, counting the floors to where she knew Tim was waiting.
Sean and Teresa stood side-by-side as Leela approached the curtain that separated Tim from the rest of the room, secretly clutching something in the pocket of her sweatshirt.
Leela kicked the door in and ran into the ICU. She saw her friends Sean and Teresa, and inside Tim’s enclosure was…her! It was her clone, and through the gap in the curtains, she could see her clone holding a knife over Tim’s chest!
Sean and Teresa gasped. “Leela?!”
Everyone in the room turned and looked at them all. A boy and a girl in the middle, with one cyclops on one side, and another cyclops with bigger boobs on the other. It was an impossible sight. No one could speak.
Leela ran at her clone. “Get away from him!” she shouted.
To her surprise, the clone ran. She ran out the door and disappeared down the hall. Leela ran after her. She was furious. She’d had enough torture, and she wasn’t going to let it continue. She wouldn’t let anyone hurt Tim.
They took off down the hall, one cyclops, then another, knocking doctors and patients out of the way. Leela was heaving hot breaths as she chased after her clone, her rage building up with every step and driving her further onward.
“Get back here you one-eyed freak!” she shouted.
“Some insult!” the clone shouted back.
Leela could barely believe it. It was her own voice she was hearing.
Someone had apparently called security, because men in blue uniforms were suddenly following behind Sean and Teresa, who were hot on Leela’s trail. The chase continued down halls and around corners, winding all the way up stairs and then down another hall.
The clone disappeared behind a gray door, through which Leela followed her. The instant she went through, she felt a punch hit her directly in the chest. She cringed in pain as she watched her clone dash up a narrow flight of stairs. She quickly started to ascend, too.
Leela emerged onto the roof. It was raining hard, and her clone was nowhere to be seen. She heard the door swing open, and Sean and Teresa emerged onto the concrete roof. The door was slammed closed, and a chair slid underneath the doorknob. It was the clone. Leela and her friends backed away from their only means of escape as the clone advanced on them brandishing her knife.
The clone spoke. “I am Lilith.”
Lilith. The name felt snakelike to Leela. It was fitting for her, too. This bitch of a clone, who was named Lilith, had tried to kill Tim.
Leela felt her anger returning to her. The rain was falling hard, and her friends were ready to hold her back, but she knew that nothing would stop her from doing what she had to do. Enough was enough. She wanted her life to go back to normal, before all this horrible trauma had taken her over. She wanted out. And by God, she was going to get rid of it all, no matter what. She walked toward Lilith.
“Do you really think you can beat me?” Lilith aksed slyly. “I am your equal in every way, if not your superior. What makes you think you stand a chance?”
“You tried to kill Tim.” Leela growled as Teresa and Sean held onto he arms. “You have taken away our peace of mind. I won’t ever forgive you. I’ll kill you for what you and your idiot family have done.”
“Idiot family?!” Lilith laughed. “Ha! What a hoot! Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that my idiot family is your idiot family also?”
“You’re not my family. You’re nothing. No sister of mine would kill my boyfriend.”
“What makes you think you don’t deserve it?”
“What do you mean?” Leela aksed suspiciously.
“Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to know.” Lilith mocked as she paced back and forth, twirling the knife in her fingers. “After all, it’s not like mom and dad tossed me away.”
Leela couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What are you—?”
“I’ve spent the past seventeen years living with our parents. I lived in happiness with them, watching the days go by, while you rotted away in a stinking orphanarium like you deserved! I knew our parents!”
Leela knew it was wrong. It had to be. Mr. Vogel had told her everything. They’d made a clone. Hadn’t they? Then again, he hadn’t told her what they’d done. Was it just as possible that she’d been used to find her sister?
“They loved me,” Lilith continued. “But they never wanted you. You had destroyed our mother. You ruined her as you came out, and she could never have children again. For that, she punished you, just as you deserved!”
“You’re wrong, Lilith!” Leela shouted at her. “That’s not true! It never happened!”
“Don’t listen to her filth, Lilith!” someone shouted through the rain. “She’ll do anything to confuse you into betraying yourself.”
Everyone looked over. It was Ivan! He stood before them, menacing and smiling.
“You son of a bitch!” Sean shouted at Ivan. “What are you doing here?!”
Ivan walked over and joined Lilith in front of the door. “Isn’t it obvious?” he aksed smoothly. “I wanted to personally introduce you to my new friend.”
Lilith and Ivan kissed. It was weird to look at, since Ivan was shorter than her. What really disgusted their audience, though, was the fact that it looked like Ivan was kissing Leela! It was horrible to watch. The only thing that proved it wasn’t Leela was the fact that she was watching, too, horrified by the display.
Ivan turned toward them, an arrogant smirk on his face.
“You see, Leela,” Ivan said. “It’s just as Lilith told you. She got your parents, and you got nothing. If I hadn’t tracked her down using your DNA signature she never would have gotten the chance to take her revenge on you. And just for good measure, she was able to help me repay Tim for killing my father.”
“You’re lying, Ivan!” Leela shouted. “You brewed her in a tank at the orphanarium and gave her false memories! You’re just using her!”
“Such is the power of denial.” Lilith sighed. “She just can’t bear the thought of knowing that I got what she was denied.”
Leela’s insides were burning. She couldn’t take much more. She wanted so badly to kill the two heathens in front of her, but she knew what it would mean if she even tried.
Suddenly a helicopter arrived overhead. The whirling of its propeller deafened the people on the roof. Wind howled like mad around them, and rain slashed against their skin like knives.
“But enough banter.” Lilith shouted as she gripped the handle of her knife. “I grow tired of this family reunion. I came here to take my revenge, and that’s exactly what I intend to do. First to go will be my dear sister, and then Tim.”
Leela wrenched her arms out of her friends’ grip and charged at her clone. Ivan dove out of the way and ran toward Sean and Teresa.
Leela ducked as Lilith slashed the knife over her head. She kicked at her clone, but was quickly blocked. Lilith swung a hook punch at Leela’s head, which she dodged underneath, coming up behind her. Leela wrapped an arm around Lilith’s neck in a chokehold. Lilith drove an elbow around, narrowly missing Leela’s ribs. She rolled forward, forcing Leela to relinquish her grip. Lilith sprang up in a low fighting stance, the knife held in front of her. Neither of them could land a single blow on the other; they were perfectly matched.
Sean and Teresa had Ivan outnumbered, but they were no match for him. Ivan’s kung-fu lessons at Phnog’s dojo hadn’t been for nothing. He spun around beneath the descending helicopter, smacking away every punch with little effort. Many times he made Sean and Teresa hit each other. The helicopter lowered even further, creating a wind great enough to blind them.
Leela dodged the knife every time it came near her. She wrapped her arm around Lilith’s wrist and forced her shoulder downward. Lilith’s arm was nearly broken. She thrust the heel of her boot up into Leela’s stomach, sending her reeling backward. Ivan swung his leg around and tripped Sean, who fell right into Leela’s path, bringing her down as well. Teresa punched Ivan, who punched her back and sent her collapsing into the pile, right beneath the helicopter.
The helicopter lowered even further, bearing down on top of Leela and her friends, until it was barely a foot above their foreheads. They shrieked in terror as they awaited their deaths.
Lilith smiled. “I’ll make sure Leela dumps Tim in the best way possible before she kills him!” she shouted.
Leela’s eye narrowed. No, she resolved. Not this way. I won’t let my boyfriend die. I won’t let my name be trashed by a forgery!
She rolled over and sprung out from underneath the helicopter, and then leapt at Ivan. She blocked his punch and kicked him in the kidney, throwing him to the ground behind her, where she dealt a final blow to the back of his head as Lilith’s knife came sailing toward her. Leela ducked under her arm and wrestled the knife out of her grip, thrusting her away. She stood up and glared at her clone. Her lack of death perception wouldn’t betray her now. She would get rid of this bitch and save her friends, and then their lives would go back to normal.
Leela advanced on Lilith, the knife gripped firmly in her hand. Lilith began to back away, probably feeling fear for the first time in her life. They circled around each other, the wind from the helicopter blowing their identical hair into their identical eyes. Leela ran at Lilith. Lilith dodged as Leela swung. Up, down, across, through and out, and then a downward slash. Leela wielded the knife expertly, never letting it go, never touching Lilith. There was no way she could successfully hit her. But Leela knew another way. There was one weakness that Lilith had. She knew about it because she shared it. Lilith had no depth perception.
Leela kicked Lilith in the face as she ducked the knife, sending her reeling back toward the edge of the roof. Without giving her time to think, Leela stood firm and threw the knife at Lilith’s eye. But as the knife left her fingers, Ivan grabbed on to her ankle. The knife went rogue, narrowly missing its target, and sliced the side of Lilith’s face. She screeched in pain, falling to her knees and clutching her face, desperately trying to hold the blood back. There was a lot. So much that it ran freely from the wound, puddling on the ground and mingling with the rainwater.
Leela could barely believe it. What had she done? She had nearly killed her own flesh and blood. She had been willing to go so far as to kill someone just to get back her old happy life. How could she have done such a thing? Nothing was worth killing. Nevertheless, she had lost control of herself, just like Tim. Tim had killed Skinner after losing his parents, and she had tried to do the same just now.
Ivan hastily ran over to Lilith and helped her up. They ran over to the helicopter, Lilith whimpering and crying. Brunswick opened the door, holding his hand out and helping them inside. Leela saw that Sean and Teresa had escaped to safety, and were standing just a few yards away. Ivan turned to Leela as the helicopter took off and glared, pointing the knife at her. Leela recognized it. It was the same knife Tim had used to kill Skinner. Then the door closed and the helicopter flew away. The wind and noise were reduced to those of the storm.
Leela looked at her friends, who looked at her. None of them could speak. They just stood there in the rain, haunted by what had happened. Leela couldn’t think of where to start; how could she explain how she’d been cloned? Her friends didn’t aks her. Perhaps they knew as much as she that there was more to be done. They swept their feet through the puddles, using the rainwater to sweep away Lilith’s blood. No evidence would remain.
“Leela?” Teresa said cautiously.
“Yes, Teresa?” Leela replied.
“You…tried to kill her.”
Leela hadn’t expected this. “Yes, I know.” She said gloomily. “I hadn’t seen it coming either. I really did it, just like Tim. I think I understand now, what he was going through. I could see what it was that made him go so far.”
“Hope. He’d gone back in time, and he’d seen his parents. I think that when he found them, he’d thought he could have saved them. He could have had his mom and dad back. And when they were taken, he couldn’t take it anymore. He struck his pain at the source.
“And just the same, I had hope. I had hoped that our lives could go back to normal, so that we could just be together. The four of us. We could have gone to school without being afraid of our teachers or our classmates, and be there for each other. Needless to say, Lilith prevented that, and I tried to kill her, just as Tim killed Skinner.”
“But you didn’t kill Lilith,” Sean said. “You missed because of Ivan.”
“And for that I owe Ivan big-time,” Leela said. “I could never live with myself if I had killed Lilith. I probably would have ended up killing myself later on because I was so guilty. No, I think that it’s good she lived. Now I understand why I tried, and why it’s better that I failed.
“But more important is that I understand Tim. I was afraid of him because of this so-called dark side inside him. But it wasn’t the darkness in him that I ran away from; it was the darkness in me. It’s the darkness in all of us. I couldn’t face it. But I can forgive him now.”
Sean hung his head. “So then…” he said slowly. “I guess…the whole thing…with the um…”
“I’m sorry Sean,” Leela said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You’re a really sweet guy, and you’re one of my best friends. If not for Tim, I would have ended up with you, no doubt.”
Sean forced a smile. “But Tim was the one who introduced us.” He pointed out. “If not for Tim, nothing would have happened at all.”
Leela laughed. “Don’t ruin it.”
Sean shrugged. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I can fix it.”
He reached down and picked up the bag he’d dropped earlier, and held it up to Leela.
“I know the timing sucks,” he said nervously, “but I wanted to…and I thought it would be nice…”
Leela reached inside the bag and removed its contents. It was a lime green coat, long and warm, and thicker than her red one, but not too bulky. It was perfect. Leela could barely hold back a tear.
Leela gaped at Sean. April 12th! He was right. It was her birthday!
She immediately donned the coat and hugged her friend. He’d turned all the stress and agony of that day into liberating calm. He’d tamed the beast, just as he had with Tim.
“There really is a lot more to you than you let on, Sean,” she said. “You should let it out more.”
For a moment the three of them stood there, letting the rain get lighter. Suddenly the door to the roof was kicked open, the chair beneath the doorknob thrown across the concrete. A security guard came barging out.
Leela, Sean and Teresa looked at him. They were in for it, now.
Leela sat in a chair next to Tim’s enclosure with Sean pacing back and forth a few feet away. Teresa was standing in the hall with a cop, telling him what had happened up on the roof. In reality, she was repeating what Leela had told the security guard up on the roof: that Leela’s clone sister Lilith had tried to kill Tim for leaving her and going for Leela, and then ran down a fire escape and ran off. It was close enough to the truth; they just left out all the bloodshed. They had all heard it, so they were all able to tell the same story, even though they were separate. Leela and Sean had already given their statements, along with everyone else in the ICU. Now they were waiting for everything to be done. They had tried to go in and see Tim, but the guard in front wouldn’t allow it.
Teresa came back inside with the cop.
“Everything checks out,” the cop said. “We’ll see what we can do to find your sister Miss…uh, Leela, but in the meantime you should keep your guard up. It sounds like she doesn’t take betrayal lightly.”
“No kidding,” Leela muttered.
“Do you have any idea where she might go?”
Leela shook her head as Teresa sat down beside her. “No. I never even knew I had a clone until today.”
“Must be quite a lot to take in, huh?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, everything’s taken care of,” the cop continued, looking at his notes, “so I’d say you’re free to go.”
“Can we see Tim first?” Sean aksed.
The guard in front of the enclosure moved to speak, but the cop stopped him. “Sure.” He said. “I think you all could use a bit of a reunion. But we’ll be keeping a guard on him for a while.”
Leela looked at Sean before entering the enclosure. If not for the boy behind the curtains, she would have kissed him right there. Even after having his heart broken, he was willing to stick his neck out for her. She smiled brightly at him as she disappeared behind the curtain, noticing how downcast he looked.
Leela saw Tim. He looked so helpless. There were tubes and wires hooked up to his chest and wrists, one going up his nose, and one attached to his index finger. His eyes were closed beneath his messy brown hair, and his chest was slowly rising and falling within the papery hospital gown.
The emotions of all the past weeks suddenly came crashing back into Leela’s heart. She’d been so scared of him, and yet she’d always loved him, and she’d betrayed him. She’d treated him like buggalo manure. How could she go so long without even seeing him? What kind of girlfriend could she be if she ran away from everything that scared her about love? Leela knelt by Tim’s side with her hand clutching his, her eye buried in the sheets, her shoulders shaking in silent sobs.
“I’m sorry, Tim,” Leela said ashamed. “I’m so sorry. If you can ever forgive me… I’ve been so stupid. I don’t know how I could ever be anything but your girlfriend. I just want us to go back to normal. Please wake up.”
A moment went by. Leela kept squeezing Tim’s hand and crying. She let her heart come out. She let herself be there for him, praying that that would be enough.
Leela’s head snapped back. Her eye was red from her tears, her mouth hanging open in shock. Tim was squeezing her hand, too. She looked up at him. His eyes were fluttering open!
“Leela!” Tim said weakly. “What happened? I thought that I had—.”
Leela threw her arms around Tim’s neck and hugged him tight, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“Thank goodness!” she cried. “I was so worried.”
As Leela felt Tim’s arms wrap themselves around her waist, she felt his heartbeat against hers. It was steady and strong. She felt happier than ever. Even with a psychotic clone and an evil family out there, she knew that as long as Tim was back everything would be okay. She had faith that together they could be strong enough to handle them. But for now all she wanted to do was be here with her boyfriend as she let things quietly settle back to normal.
Author’s Note: New enemies have been made and defeated. Tim is back on track, and things seem to have quieted down. It seems as though things really will change for the better, and everyone’s mind is on one thing: Prom. Everything seems fine, but is the danger really over?